Inter Milan have extraordinarily stoked the flames on a potential exit for star striker Lautaro Martinez.
The Argentine marksman has been in red-hot form under Antonio Conte this season, bagging 13 goals and four assists across all competitions so far.
Such has been his prolific form at the San Siro that the Nerazzurri currently find themselves lording it at the summit of Serie A, above perennial leaders Juventus.
However, not all is nirvana in Milan. Conte recently saw his side eliminated from the Champions League, losing to a second-string Barcelona, while club CEO, Giuseppe Marotta, has now opened the door on a possible Martinez departure.
“If Lautaro wants to leave we will evaluate the situation,” Marotta told Italian outlet Sports Mediaset.
Such comments have, no doubt, caught the attention of Europe’s heavyweight clubs and a bidding war could now be forthcoming this winter window or beyond, but from who?
We’ve evaluated the options for Martinez, suggesting a dream, wildcard and realistic option for one of South American’s most lethal strikers at the minute.
Martinez has established himself as one of the continent’s leading finishers, showcasing his intelligence, athleticism and spatial awareness at the San Siro, making him hot property for clubs like Barca, who could be in the market for a new No. 9 come the end of the season – or even January.
The Catalan club boast a side oozing world-class and cosmopolitan quality, but some of the club’s leading legs are beginning to age, most notably Luis Suarez, who turns 33 next month.
The skilful Uruguayan has continued to score goals at an absurd rate, while his inventive backheel finish over the weekend tells us he still packs bravado and ingenuity in abundance, but he cannot last forever.
Indeed, Suarez himself has already addressed rumours linking Barca to a new forward, confessing that it is in no way “strange” for a club of the Blaugrana’s stature to be eyeing up potential successors.
Ernesto Valverde attempted to alleviate his lack of depth in the No. 9 department last season with the short-term recruitment of Kevin-Prince Boateng, but perhaps now is the time to think long-term and purchase an adequate heir to Suarez’s Camp Nou throne.
In Martinez, Valverde would be getting a complete, out-and-out striker; someone who can link play, which is best exemplified by his almost telepathic understanding with Romelu Lukaku at Inter, and demonstrate a ‘fox in the box’ instinct.
What’s more, Martinez would be lining up alongside compatriot Lionel Messi. The duo have already started alongside each other in a two-man partnership for La Albiceleste – and thrived – culminating in a 1-0 win over Brazil last month. This could prove a match made in heaven for both Martinez, and Messi.
Realistic: Manchester City
Another club who could be in need of reinforcements up-top are City. The reigning Premier League champions will see talismanic forward Sergio Aguero turn 32 next year and enter the last year of his contract at the Etihad, meaning a potential replacement is certainly being considered by the club’s top brass.
Sure, Gabriel Jesus is seen as the man to step up a carry the baton after Aguero closes the curtain, but when was Pep Guardiola ever satisfied with just one elite-level player in a crucial area of the field? To think City would see Aguero leave and not sign a big replacement seems a tad naive.
No, City are more than likely to courier vast sums to some area of the continent in an effort to secure top talent and keep their quest for European dominance well and truly alive, and said talent could very much come in the guise of Martinez.
As mentioned, the 22-year-old ticks all the boxes of an archetypal ‘complete forward’, so he would be able to slot seamlessly into a role Aguero has made his own, and, of course, tweaked upon the arrival of Guardiola in the North West.
Aguero is tasked with linking play, making runs in behind to stretch defences, exert pressure when out of possession and most importantly, score goals. Martinez’s versatility and well-stocked repertoire makes him the ideal replacement for Aguero.
Lautaro Martinez is the first Inter Milan player to score in three consecutive #UCL games since Samuel Eto'o in 2010.
4 games, 3 goals for the Argentinian. pic.twitter.com/1MlXVSje12
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 5, 2019
Jesus, for all his brilliance and potential, has his limitations, but with fresh competition, it could elevate his own game. Plus there’s always the potential of a Jesus-Martinez partnership, which could very well flourish under the tutelage of an astute tactician of Guardiola’s standing.
For Martinez, this move would make complete sense as well. He would relocate to one of the biggest leagues in world football, potentially play alongside – and then ultimately replace – one of his nation’s biggest exports in Aguero and will also hone your craft under the guidance of one of the game’s leading managers.
Wildcard: Manchester United
For all their recent shortcomings, Man Utd are still one of the biggest clubs in world football, both financially and in terms of their huge fanbase, meaning they can still compete with the cream of Europe when a big-name player is potentially up for grabs.
Well according to the Mirror, Man Utd are very much in the running for Martinez, who is said to have a €111m (around £95m) release clause. In today’s market, that figure borders on being a bit of a snip for a player of Martinez’s innate talents.
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Those of a Red Devil persuasion were slightly baffled over the summer as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer allowed Romelu Lukaku to leave without signing a replacement, which ultimately culminated in a brief crisis as Marcus Rashford, as well as Anthony Martial, were injured and Jesse Lingard had to play up-top at one stage.
However, there was a clear direction in Solskjaer’s mind. The Norwegian espouses a quick, counterattacking brand of football, so it made sense to sanction a Lukaku sale, and recruit pace-merchant Daniel James. We have already seen the sheer devastation of Man Utd’s attacking trident this term when they are on song, fit and firing on all cylinders, evoking fond memories of those halcyon Fergie days.
But, the Red Devils are a side accustomed to world-class strikers. A quick look at their frontline alumni paints a transparent picture of just what those at Old Trafford have been used to the past three decades: Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Dimitar Berbatov, Robin van Persie, Eric Cantona, and even Solskjaer himself.
So, perhaps Martinez can be the latest in that illustrious line of rich talent. Man Utd may not be able to offer him Champions League football – depending on how this season pans out – while he will not be joining the best, or even second-best team in the Premier League, but he can be the poster boy for a club seeking to reassert a domestic stranglehold; the fulcrum and leading light, ready to guide this sleeping giant back to stardom.
The chance to play for a club of Man Utd’s global reputation, and potentially be the man responsible for putting them back atop the pedestal is certainly a tantalising proposition, and it may prove too hard to turn down if Ed Woodward comes knocking.